With Louisiana’s opioid overdose cases increasing, activists work to raise awareness

By: - July 28, 2021 4:54 pm

Activist Lilly Harvey speaks about her own opioid struggles Wednesday, July 28 during Opioid Crisis Awareness Day (Photo by Rachel Mipro / Louisiana Illuminator)

BATON ROUGE – Lilly Harvey’s daughter fatally overdosed on opioids, and Harvey struggled with opioid addiction herself. In memory of her lost daughter, she has been working to raise awareness of the overdose crisis in her Winnsboro community, including creating an advocacy group called “Millie Mattered.”

“I tried to reach out to others who had lost ones the same way as Millie,” Harvey said as she stood in front of banners printed with the faces of overdose victims at a Wednesday news conference on the steps of the Louisiana Capitol.

“Opioids stole my nursing license,” Harvey said. “Opioids stole my marriage, my relationship with my children and my family. I knew there must be others that were going through this but there was no advocacy. I felt God calling me to make a difference.”

Harvey was at the capitol for Opioid Crisis Awareness Day, which Gov. John Bel Edwards declared to bring attention to the largest increase of opioid-related deaths in the country.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, overdose deaths in Louisiana rose 50-75% from 2019-2020.  With overdoses caused by synthetic opioids factored in, the total number of 2020 opioid deaths in Louisiana was 1,500.

This year isn’t looking much better for the state. Preliminary data from the CDC suggests that Louisiana is in the top ten for predicted overdoses, with a potential 48% increase from May 2020 to May 2021.

In Calcasieu Parish alone, 41 residents died from opioid overdoses between Jan. 1 to May 13, according to Calcasieu Coroner Terry Welke, averaging more than two opioid overdose deaths per week.

Mark DeClouet, a Louisiana psychiatric nurse practitioner who treats acute psychiatric and substance abuse, moderated Wednesday’s news conference and said there are many factors in these rising overdose numbers.

“We ask ourselves why is this happening, why can’t we provide a level of care that keeps people alive? And it’s for a variety of reasons, but from the top we’re seeing a higher potency of drug enter the markets tainted with fentanyl that’s killing people, while at the same time they cannot simply access care,” DeClouet said.

Other speakers advocated for more widespread use of medication-assisted treatment, in which medication like methadone and buprenorphine could be used to treat opioid dependencies.

Quinetta Womack, director of clinical operations in the Louisiana Department of Health Office of Behavioral Health, said the department planned on partnering with Louisiana communities to provide treatment services, along with trying nontraditional and traditional treatment methods.

“On behalf of the Louisiana Department of Health Office of Behavioral Health, we are dedicated to providing intervention, prevention, treatment and recovery support services to address the opioid epidemic here in Louisiana,” Womack said.

Last week Louisiana 211 announced a new opioid-focused texting program.  People can text OPIOID to 898-211 to gain access to resources and confidential help from professionals.

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Rachel Mipro
Rachel Mipro

Rachel Mipro is a contributing reporter to the Illuminator. She has previous experience at WBRZ and The Reveille and earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Louisiana State University. At LSU, she worked as an opinion editor for The Reveille and as a nonfiction editor for the university’s creative writing journal. In her free time, she enjoys baking, Netflix and hiking.